It was a recent quiet gathering along the banks of Montana’s famed Big Hole River. The children, two grandchildren and even the 11-year-old chocolate lab belonging to the late Tony E. Schoonen Sr. were all there.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock announced what was formerly known as the Notch Bottom Fishing Access would be renamed the Tony Schoonen Fishing Access Site.
“My father worked to ensure access to our public lands and waters, so that they could be enjoyed by all. He felt that the common man had as much right as the rich and famous to enjoy these natural wonders,” said youngest son Jack Schoonen. “We can never take our public lands and waters for granted, and the fight for public access must go forward.”
“The list of contributions Tony made over a career dedicated to the public interest is far too great to enumerate,” said Governor Bullock, as reported in the Bitterroot Star. “From block management, to Habitat Montana, to issues spanning access to state trust lands and forest service planning – virtually every major conservation and public lands management policy benefited from Tony’s dedicated, sometimes relentless, and always resolute, pursuit.”
Highlighting one simple example of a life-long commitment to public access, conservation and the outdoors, Schoonen joined the fledgling Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation a mere three years after its founding in 1984. He later became a RMEF life member, as did several other family members.
Inducted into the 2017 Montana Outdoor Hall of Fame, Schoonen passed away two years later, even as he worked on a project that since became a new access point to the Big Hole. So perhaps it is most fitting that those who fish and enjoy those waters will forever see his name attached to the river. After all, the Tony Schoonen Access Site marks yet another hands-on example of his life’s work.
(Photo source: Becky Bennett)